Letchworth State Park, the Grand Canyon of the East, covers over 14,000 beautifully forested acres that stretch roughly 17 miles along the Genesee River gorge in western New York state.
The park campground was not yet open for the season, so we got an early start from our nearby KOA campground and spent one day exploring numerous hiking trails that wove up and down throughout the park.
Scattered among the grounds are 15 descriptive panels and 60 commemorative medallions marking the locations of the projects FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps completed in the 1930s and early 1940s. Some, like the bridge below, still stand today. Others, like the fireplace, have been renovated.
We have one more day to fill and another New York state park to share with you before moving on. Where will that be?
A short drive to Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park allowed us a chance for a short hike with a link to one of the country’s most iconic national trails.
The 2.3-mile Massie Gap and Wilburn Ridge loop trail overlaps a portion of the Appalachian Trail, the nearly 2,200-mile path that leads thru-hikers from Springer Mountain in the state of Georgia, north to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
We read that we could expect spectacular views and, if we were lucky, glimpses of a wild Grayson Highland pony or two.
From atop the rock outcropping (behind Reg in photo with trail marker above) we could see forever. We rejoined the Appalachian Trail section and continued on for a short bit until a steep downhill (requiring a steep return ascent) turned us around.
Our perfect timing allowed us to spend Easter weekend with Chris and Gail in and around Charleston, West Virginia. We relaxed with dinner out Saturday night and spent Easter Sunday hanging around our campsite. After two games of croquet, where the guys fought for first place and Gail and I battled it out for last place, we rounded out the evening gathered around our cozy trailer dinette feasting on barbecued shish kebabs. And then it was time to say goodbye…
We’re not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469-mile national parkway that runs through Virginia and North Carolina. We drove a part of it on a trip 5 years ago, but the weather was so cold and foggy we deserted it after just a few miles. This time the weather was beautiful, but cold…36 degrees as we stopped at various viewpoints and took a quick look around the historical 1889 Brinegar cabin property. Returning by way of an alternate route, we saw acres of Christmas tree farms decorating the landscape.
A six-mile roundtrip walk along the New River Trail State Park, a 57-mile strip that follows the abandoned railroad right-of-way, got us out of the truck for some much needed exercise. With two more days to fill and temperatures promising to warm up into the 70s (F), we expect to explore more of this rail trail with our bikes.
With over 365 miles of surveyed passageways, geologists think there could be 600 more miles yet to be charted throughout the cave that lies below Mammoth Cave National Park. Known as the longest cave system on earth, it has been explored off and on for the last 4,000 years. The national park offers a selection of below ground tours for curious visitors. Reg reserved the 2-hour Gothic Tour, allowing us a taste of what the ancient explorers found.
A flight of stairs led us down past a dripping waterfall and into the historic entrance of the cave. Our guide led us a mile through several passageways, pointing out some artifacts dating back to the War of 1812 and telling endless stories of historical significance. Ancient graffiti covered the ceiling, left by 19th century explorers who created their names with soot from their candle flame.
The Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike & Hike Trail runs 16 miles from the park visitor’s center to the town of Park City. We rode about 5.5 miles before turning around…not bad for our first ride of the year. Sections of the mostly crushed rock trail made for a bumpy ride while the plank bridges created a much smoother path.
Getting to the backcountry area of the park required a short ferry ride across the fast-flowing Green River. We had the Big Hollow Loop trail almost completely to ourselves. Recent rains had left some slick, muddy areas. Downed trees lay across the trail in a few spots, requiring us to climb up and over.
Two full days to explore the park was plenty for us. If you want to take advantage of several different cave tours then three or four days might be better. Either way, Mammoth Cave National Park is definitely worth the stop. Now, on to West Virginia…
We arrived at our Singing Hills RV Park campsite early in the day, so we had a free afternoon to explore Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park prior to our scheduled cave tour the next morning.
After a securing a park guide with map, and armed with a couple short hike recommendations, we each gobbled down a mammoth hot dog and left the busy visitor’s center. The promise of wild flowers led us to a short hike to see where the underground River Styx exits, spilling into a muddy pond that flows into Green River.
Back at our campsite, Mother Nature had plans for our evening. You might remember awhile back I mentioned my fear of tornadoes. As we were making dinner, my phone began whining like a miniature air raid siren with a voice shouting ”Tornado warning! Take cover now!” Fortunately, I had my warning radius set far wider than necessary and the danger zone was a safe distance away…but not so far away that we avoided the storm. A bank of black clouds quickly covered us, bringing winds that shook our trailer, thunder, lightning and torrential rains. A pretty crazy night!